London calling for Harpenden panto

WE took a trip to London for the Harpenden Public Halls pantomime of 2012, Dick Whittington.

Will Dick become Lord Mayor of London, and give Boris a run for his money? Will he win the hand of Alice, and defeat King Rat? Will he be upstaged by a man in a dress, a kick-boxing cat, and dancing gingerbread men? Of course he will!

This was a terrific production, and has all the elements that you want in a pantomime, with a talented, lively cast, lots of daft jokes, magic, dancing, enjoyable songs and singalongs, and fabulous costumes.

Chris Law has assembled and directed an excellent cast, especially for such a small theatre; Cerrie Burnell (CBeebies) was a lovely, reassuring presence as Fairy of the Bells, and Peter Purves (Blue Peter and Doctor Who legend) as Alderman Fitzwarren brought an assured, polished confidence, the result of years of acting and presenting, as well as directing many pantomimes.

We travelled from London to Morocco on board The Blue Peter (of course!), and there were at least 100 daft jokes along the way. Self-proclaimed “Harpenden’s answer to Cheryl Cole” Sarah the Cook was an excellent pantomime Dame, played by Richard Aucott.

With costume changes for every scene (which I think Richard made himself), a Dolly Parton number, and a hearty rendition of “five toilet rolls” he kept everyone entertained and lit up the stage every time he came on.

Grant Coren was an entertaining and scary King Rat who did make a few children hide behind their parents! I took the family, and we all liked different things, which is exactly as it should be.

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I was delighted to see a band, under musical director Steve Parker, which brought a lively atmosphere to the production. I thought there was some excellent singing, particularly the duets between Dick (Sophie Massie) and Alice (Jessica Pegram), which were really polished and impressive.

The show-stealing dance was the gingerbread children from the Sarah Andrews Dance Academy, who drew lots of ahhhs from the audience. We also really enjoyed the older girls’ hornpipe tap dance on board The Blue Peter.

Polly (six) was gripped throughout and got very involved in shouting “it’s behind you” during the classic spooky monster scene. Her verdict on the show: “It was fun and scary. I liked the fireworks and singing and dancing. Alice was very pretty.”

Izzie (10) is a veteran of local pantomimes and a slightly tougher audience: “I liked the evil guy, Idle Jack and the cat – they were really funny”.

Both girls loved hearing some of the hit songs of the year, especially the Jessie J and Bruno Mars songs. Steve (45) hadn’t been to a pantomime for a few years and was impressed by the show, particularly Peter Purves who “anchored the ship”.

We left the panto to walk across pretty Harpenden Common, singing and smiling – exactly what you would wish for from a Christmas show.